Picking the Best Dog Food
Picking the Best Dog Food
Walking into a pet store and trying to choose the best dog food for your pet can be daunting. There are literally aisles upon aisles of choices and they all look appealing. While I cannot tell you what food is specifically best for your dog, I do want to explain what all the terms that are being thrown around mean.
You may have heard that raw food is best, or only to feed grain free food, or that you should rotate proteins. These are all hot topics in the dog food world. There has also been a lot of controversy surrounding specific foods and recalls or ill effects to dogs (notably right now is the lawsuit being filed against Purina for deaths associated with their Beneful brand dog food https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fgqPVZmsTE).
So here are a few important things to keep in mind when picking a food for your pet: know your dog’s needs based on their age, health, and activity level. A young, large breed puppy who is prone to developing weight issues will not have the same needs as an older Chihuahua. Talk to your vet, or better yet talk to a veterinary nutritionist if you have specific questions or concerns. Most vets are only exposed to limited general nutritional information in vet school, but they have access to veterinary prescription diets and can help you with an elimination diet if you think your pet may be suffering from food related allergies or could be helped by diet regulation for any number of diseases ranging from thyroid disorders to diabetes.
Another important concept to remember is that most dog foods you see on TV or in ads are extolling the size of their marketing budget more than the benefits of their food. If a company is advertising on TV, they have dedicated a portion of their resources to marketing their product. While this is not always a bad thing, there are plenty of companies that do not advertise but rather dedicate their entire budget to their food development and production. Don’t rely simply on brand recognition. Be sure you read the actual ingredient list, as well and look up foods on a trusted resource, such as Dog Food Advisor (http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/) where you can also set up alerts to be notified of recalls as soon as they happen.
One common theme that I hear is that dogs are so genetically similar to wolves that they should be fed a grain free diet or raw diet similar to what wolves supposedly eat. I have a few issues with this ideology. First of all, we are extremely similar to chimps but we clearly do not have the same needs, nutritionally or otherwise. Dogs can certainly interbreed with wolves, demonstrating a close genetic relationship; however, they have been domesticated and fed human food for generations before commercial dog food was invented. This primarily means that they ate trash and refuse and adapted to eating this type of food. Dogs who could not digest refuse did not live to reproduce. A few studies have even recently shown that dogs initially ate potatoes and other legumes as part of their evolutionary diet. Also, wolves do eat grains. When they eat an animal, they eat the stomach and intestines, as well, which is full of digesting plant matter and many wolves forage and gnaw on plant material.
Current dog foods that are sold in stores must meet basic AAFCO (http://www.aafco.org) guidelines. This does not mean that all foods are the same or that these guidelines even come close to describing the ideal dog food. In fact, many people feel they are too lax and allow too many unhealthy foods to be sold as pet grade feed. However, these guidelines do ensure a basic minimum of nutritional standards that are difficult to replicate if you are making your own dog food at home or feeding a non-commercial raw diet. Buying a commercially made dog food or working with a certified veterinary nutritionist (http://www.acvn.org/) is really the only way to ensure your dog is getting the proper nutrients they need to live healthily. Balancing appropriate carbohydrates, proteins, and other nutrients is not always a cut and dry case for every dog.
Lastly, the new phenomenon with food allergies. Many foods tout their benefits, particularly when it comes to limiting ingredients for dogs dealing with potential food allergies. If you suspect your dog has a food sensitivity or allergy, switching their food without proper guidance is not the best way to go. While some of the grain free or limited ingredient foods may seem to help with your pets symptoms, sometimes it is simply the lack of some other substance (like a preservative) in the new food that is actually leading to the improvement. In order to truly diagnose and treat your dog’s potential allergy you should consult with your vet and go through a true elimination test, get bloodwork done, or consider a prescription diet.
Whenever you are considering changing your dog’s diet, always remember to do so slowly by mixing the original and new diets over a period of days or weeks to prevent any GI upset for your pet. You may even want to consider adding or changing supplements as your dog’s needs grow and change. There are currently many resources for owners including veterinarians, the internet and other dog care professionals who can guide you and help you select the best food for your specific dog. Always remember that the decisions you make for your dog are entirely yours to make and while taking everyone’s thoughts and opinions into consideration can be helpful, you need to do what you feel is best for your dog.
Happy Training and “Bone” Appétit!
Head Trainer- Perfect Pooch
BA, CPDT-KA, AKC CGC Evaluator